My Favourite Painting: Kiki McDonough

Designer Kiki McDonough chooses a classic London image by Claude Monet that was inspired during the French painter's family trip to England.

Kiki McDonough on Houses of Parliament by Claude Monet

‘I grew up in London and, whenever we had guests to stay, my mother would take us all up onto the top deck of a Number 11 bus, from the King’s Road in Chelsea to St Paul’s Cathedral, so we could see the city. The Houses of Parliament stood out as the most majestic and imposing, yet intricate and beautiful building.

‘I loved the tower of Big Ben in particular and, every time I pass it, I am reminded of what a great city we live in. For me, it is an iconic landmark. The lavender hues in this painting are beautiful and yet rather haunting — you can’t be sure what time of day it is.’

Kiki McDonough is a London-based jewellery designer

John McEwen on Monet’s Houses of Parliament

In 1892, Claude Monet regretted that he could no longer paint in the same spirit as before. ‘If what I do no longer has the charm of youth, I hope that it has more serious qualities, that one can live longer with one of these canvases.’ He was working on his ‘Cathedral’ series, which he would later compare in interest to his Thames paintings.

Monet first came to London in 1870–71 to avoid the Franco Prussian War. It was only on a family visit in 1899 that the river view from his Savoy hotel room captured his imagination. He conceived a series of paintings from the start and stayed for extended periods at The Savoy over the next five years.

Having painted the bridges from his Savoy balcony, in 1900, through a contact of John Singer Sargent’s, he began a series on the Houses of Parliament from St Thomas’ Hospital, on the opposite bank from the hotel. He painted from a covered terrace with permission to leave his things (with his paintings in a locked crate) in a reception room. He usually went at sunset, returning for dinner in The Savoy’s already famous grill room, sometimes with French-speaking friends such as Sargent and Henry James; Monet had little English. The Thames pictures eventually totalled more than 100.

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In old age, he wrote: ‘My only merit is to have painted directly from Nature seeking to render my impressions before the most fugitive effects.’ To capture transience, not least of momentary light filtered through London smogs, as an act of apparent spontaneity was the product of months, even years, of anguished reworking; but the fact that his ‘Thames’ series has, indeed, lived long is proven by its undiminished popularity.